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Monday, April 18, 2016

Beyond loopy: Latest Judith Curry-ism: the Earth could be flat after all

Sou | 11:00 PM Go to the first of 54 comments. Add a comment

Judith Curry has tipped into "beyond denier weirdness". She's picked up an article that looks as if it first appeared at WUWT three years ago (archived here) - and who knows where Anthony Watts dug it up from. Anyway, according to Judith Curry (see here), if scientists generally agree about something then it's evidence of a lack of evidence of that something. Yes. You read that right.

Credit: Plognark
Here is what Judith Curry thought so nice she quoted it thrice (here and here and here):
In our view, the fact that so many scientists agree so closely about the [causes of the] earth’s warming is, itself, evidence of a lack of evidence for [human caused] global warming – D. Ryan Brumberg and Matthew Brumberg
So let's put that to the test. Using Judith's test, which she adopted from a couple of science deniers, there must be a lack of evidence of:
  • evolution
  • the big bang
  • inheritance via DNA
  • substances being comprised of atoms
  • the periodic table
  • plate tectonics
  • photosynthesis
  • bacterial infection
  • viruses
  • oh heck - the list is going to be way too long, it comprises everything that is accepted in science.

Wait, there's more. Here's what Judith doesn't understand about climate. She says there is "considerable debate" - I guess she's been reading too many denier blogs and not any scientific papers. Judith doesn't know:
  1. that the warming since 1950 has been dominated by human causes (it has).
  2. how much the planet will warm in the 21st century (probably at least three degrees above pre-industrial)
  3. whether warming is ‘dangerous’ (yes, it is posing many dangers)
  4. whether radically reducing CO2 emissions will improve the climate and human well being (no, it won't improve the climate but it will prevent more harm).
The only one that I'd say most people don't know with any real confidence, is how much the planet will warm in the 21st century. That will depend to a large degree on how much more CO2 we add to the air. It could be "only" two or maybe three degrees if we're lucky and manage to curb emissions enough quickly enough. Since we're already past one degree of warming, I think we'll be lucky if we can keep it below another two degrees by the end of this century.

If anyone thought that Judith Curry was loopy, you were wrong. She's beyond loopy.

From the HotWhopper archives


  1. I take it Judith gets her water supply from a sewer because those pesky scientists all agree that clean water is important for health, so that can't be right.

  2. So, the only things that have convincing evidence of being true are those things are =not= accepted by a large number of scientists? Is that what she's saying?

    Well, not quite. The idea is that hypotheses have a "knowability" factor, which determines how hard a thing is to be known. This is entirely subjective. Neither Curry nor the writers she quotes provide any reliable means of accurately determining the "knowability" of a hypothesis. It comes down to the "I find it hard to believe" fallacy, as if convincing Joe Schmo of the truth of something is a rational test of veracity.

    Curry and the writers also are confused about the importance of the "consensus" papers, claiming that the researchers who assemble those studies think "we should be convinced" of the reality of AGW because so many scientists are. (This is wrong of course; the consensus studies were done in a reaction to the denialist claim of widespread disagreement, not in an effort to offer any argument in favor of AGW.) Curry rightly points out that this would be problematic, since that's not the way science works. Science is based on evidence and logic, not votes.

    On the other hand, it is Curry and the other deniers who insist the opposite--that a supposed "controversy" within scientific circles means we =shouldn't= be convinced of the reality of AGW. A vote on reality, they say, =should= convince us AGW is =not= happening if there is a debate going on, but it =shouldn't= convince us it =is= happening if there turns out to be widespread agreement.

    Indeed, this latest effort is an attempt to convince us that both a (nonexistent) "controversy" and the absence of that "controversy" should convince us of the falsity (or at least unverifiability) of AGW.

    1. I agree, D.C.P. How are we going to determine the "knowability factor" (K) in any objective manner, untainted by any hidden or open agendas? One would have to be an accomplished expert in the field, and possess the very highest intellectual integrity, in order to succeed. So we are back to asking and trusting experts again. But what do we do if there is no expert consensus about the K factor? And if there is such a consensus, how can we trust it? Maybe a consensus about K means that we should trust it less... and round and round it goes, like a snake biting its own tail.

    2. Ouroborous on speed.

      And turtles all the way down.

    3. Ouroborous on speed.

      With an important difference: the head is in the tail, so to speak.

    4. But that is the very point: to spin!

    5. Interesting image, of Ouroboros eating its head with its cloaca. Yes, that's fitting.

  3. It does appear to want your cake and eat it.

    1. There is no consensus.

    2. But, just in case, if there is a consensus that proves scientists are wrong.

    Big sigh ...

  4. Cognitive dissonance does strange things to the brain.

  5. Don't forget than in January 2015 Curry spent pages discussing whether 'most', 'more than half' and '> 50%' meant the same thing. Among others, ATTP skewered her nicely at the time. Curry's silly word games and apparent muddled thinking processes are on a par with those of economist Richard Tol.

  6. While looking through the comments on ATTP, I realized I hadn't seen any comments from Pekka Pirilä for some time.

    Sadly, it turns out he died November 24, 2015 aged 70, following a short illness.

    Pekka Pirilä obituary (in Finnish)

    1. That is sad indeed. :-(

      Vale Pekka.

    2. Oh, I didn't know that either. That is sad news.

    3. Sorry to hear that.

      I know of at least one other prolific online commenter who died, a woman who went by "lilady". She was a retired public health nurse who had been the mother to a developmentally disabled son who grew to adulthood and pre-deceased her. She was a tireless fighter of anti-vaccination lunacy, drawing on both her deep knowledge of public health and her experience with her disabled son. When she died, people simply wondered where she was for a while until it was somehow determined that she had died. Orac at Respectful Insolence devoted a column to memorializing her.

  7. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. it's a clever strategy because they can "science the sh1t" out of this theory by examining abstracts - and determine that the higher the consensus on AGW, like Plate Tectonics and Evolutionary theory, the less the theory is explicitly endorsed in the abstracts

      it is a "heads I win tails you loose strategy"

      conspritards always have both bases covered

  8. This should be known as the Judith Curry Principle and should be applied regularly at her site.

  9. Curryouser and curryouser!...Oh dear, what nonsense I'm talking!

    (Alice in Wonderland, Ch. 2: The Pool of Tears)

  10. If strong agreement among experts indicates a lack of evidence supporting something, then presumably strong disagreement among experts must indicate a glut of evidence supporting something. I'm dizzy now. These guys are getting hard to parody.

    1. "Looking glass logic." Because, you know, it's just a game with no real-world implications...

    2. We can use the Judith Curry Principle to prove that it is almost certainly correct (since almost no scientists subscribe to the theory) QED.

  11. If I recall correctly, one of the authors was the Republican Candidate for the House of Representatives in my district, NY-14, in the 2010 elections when the Democrats were "shellacked" nationwide to use Obama's language. Brumberg got around 20% of the vote. That says it all.

  12. In 200+ comments right now (many disputing the silly claim made by the Brumberg brothers), Judith Curry has only one comment: "thx, this looks interesting"
    in response to someone recommending the book Science of Coercion: Communication Research and Psychological Warfare 1945-1960.

  13. Basically, as a consensus approaches 100% you get down to that last guy, the ultimate iconoclast, and he cannot be wrong because that many people cannot be right. It just makes redneck sense.

    1. 'Millions to one chances crop up nine times out of ten!'

      Terry Pratchett, whose concept of 'Narrativium' I have found to be a very useful guide in distinguishing between reason and how people actually think...

    2. Got the same idea as bill. This whole story may be an hidden hommage from Judith Curry after all.

  14. It amazes me how much Curry's "knowability curve" resembles the "Laffer curve". In both cases:

    a) the left and right extremes both approach zero

    b) the ideal is therefore in the middle

    c) there is no way to determine where upon the curve we are currently located

    d) there is no evidence in any experimental observation that the theory behind the curve actually relates in any way to the Real World(tm)

    ... therefore, the proponents of the curve can loudly proclaim any result they desire and farcically appear to be scientifical.

    In both cases, we are dealing with a theory which cannot be verified or falsified, but which looks on the surface as if it makes some kind of odd sense -- if one is already convinced of the conclusions one wants to reach.

    1. Needless to say Art Laffer has been advising Ted Cruz since 2015.

      Being regularly and spectacularly wrong is not an embarrassment in the GOP. It's a requirement.

  15. It's not quite as stupid as it might seem. The authors do accept consensus on matters that are "easily verified". That said, what amounts to "easily verified"? One might naively suppose that Newton's 2nd Law (acceleration proportional to resultant force) can be easily verified on the grounds that one can do a lot of experiments that indicate that it is. Only problem is that it has actually been falsified insofar as it has been found not to apply at velocities approaching the speed of light.

    Science isn't ultimately in the business of verification, but rather falsification, something that is clearly beyond a couple of lawyers like Brumberg and Brumberg. A scientific consensus gathers around the theory that is robust to attempts at falsification, in this case AGW with resultant feedbacks with significant climatic consequences, as opposed to the various whimsies propounded by Curry's allies.

    1. It's an argument made of straw.

      While there is high consensus on the issue that they are attacking, namely

      >"The scope of agreement achieved by the world’s climate scientists is breathtaking. To first approximation, around 97% agree that human activity, particularly carbon dioxide emissions, causes global warming. "

      the consensus weakens as you drill into the detail and that is reflected in the IPCC reports. For example, almost all climate scientists would agree that we can expect sea level rise but there are differing schools of thought on how much and how quickly.

    2. Reading the linked article reveals that the authors genuinely think that global warming is unobserved:

      “In our view, the fact that so many scientists agree so closely about the earth’s warming is, itself, evidence of a lack of evidence for global warming”

      This strongly suggests they have no idea about the material evidence, so have entered the discussion at a great disadvantage.

      Appealing to their own ignorance, they blithely waffle....of no consequence to reality, which is why it attracts Curry, three years after it was published.

    3. As a side note, I don't think of Newton's laws as false, so much as having a range of applicability. They are perfectly good in non-relativistic situations. That's not a particularly clean example of falsifiability.

      I've been teaching this stuff for many years, by the way.

    4. I can recognise a flimsy piece of logic that resides within what Curry has written. But none of it makes any sense when the 'contrarian' position exists only because of established interests funding it.

  16. There is also a bit of this going on: "If we don't know everything, that means we know nothing."

    Curry (and, to be fair, most commentators on all sides of this issue) tend to speak of "climate change" (or "global warming" or "AGW" or whatever term we wish to use) as a unified whole. As Mike H pointed out in the comments above, there are aspects which are well-known and thoroughly proven, and there are details which are still being worked out.

    For example: CO2 is a greenhouse gas which impedes the release into space of heat in the form of infrared radiation. This is having the effect of causing the Earth's climate to warm at a rate unprecedented in human history. None of this can be rationally questioned. However, details of how quickly those effects will manifest, and the precise ratio of atmospheric CO2 to temperature rise, such details are not precisely known.

    Curryite deniers take the uncertainty about such details and spin it into uncertainty about AGW as a whole. If we don't know those details--many of which critically matter--how can we argue that we know anything about this topic at all? That is the argument they are making.

    The latest form of this argument is to claim those unknown details reveal a complexity which gives the topic as a whole a bad "knowability" rating. Any claims to be certain about something with low "knowability" must be untrustworthy claims. Therefore, Curry says, if there is high agreement among scientists about a topic with high complexity and at least some critical unknowns, we should question that consensus.

    The problem with this argument is, as I said, some aspects of the subject =are= reliably known. The basic principles are beyond question, but it is precisely those principles that Curry must question for her position to be rational. She can appear to be rationally questioning them only by taking the entire topic as a whole, and claiming that an unknown in one area must be seen as implying unknowns in other areas--if we don't know everything, that means we don't know anything.

    We should apply this principle to Curry herself, and argue instead that she is insisting she doesn't know anything. We should perhaps take her at her word.

    1. We should apply this principle to Curry herself, and argue instead that she is insisting she doesn't know anything. We should perhaps take her at her word.

      Heh heh. Good one, D.C.

    2. I really wonder if she's starting to suffer from some kind of dementia.

    3. If so it's called GOP Dementia. It might even take you into office!

  17. Little-known fact: in the middle ages, the Earth orbited about the Sun. But then the Copernican revolution and Galileo came to be widely accepted, and lo and behold, the Sun began instead to be the one orbiting the Earth.

    Don't take my word for it though: if enough of you were to believe it, it would flip back, and (another little-known fact) the switchover was the cause for the established population of North America to crash in the 16th and 17th centuries -- as a North American I don't want that to happen again!

  18. According to google trends interest in flat earth has risen recently

    And anecdotally a forum I contribute to (unrelated to science, climate, conspiracies etc) recently had a thread regarding "flat earth" and the possibility we were being hoaxed into believing it was a globe

    And it was a genuine post too

    1. Of course the earth is flat. The great astronomer Terry Pratchett has proven it. (See elephant for details.)

    2. interestingly the earth isn't flat, but our Solar system is - and even some galaxies

    3. Only relatively flat. It's got bumps and stuff.

      Plus, if one includes the Kuyper Belt or the Oort Cloud, the solar system isn't close to flat.

      Anyway, space is curved, as Einstein showed, so none of it is flat.

      This just goes to prove that all science is unreliable, and will be replaced by something better, so we shouldn't do anything about anything until we know everything about everything. Nothing can be relied upon to work because we don't have perfect knowledge. Turn off the internet and back away slowly.

    4. The Moon is made of cheese, as proven by the great explores Wallace and Gromit in their video record.

  19. Great, now we have a whole set of paradoxes courtesy of the denialist clown show.

    It started (courtesy of David Appel) with:

    The Lindzen Paradox: "Oh yeah," said Lindzen. "I don't think there's any question that the brightest minds went into physics, math, chemistry…"

    The Curry Paradox: The less you know about a subject, the more knowledgeable you are (google Curry & Bose-Einstein)

    The Spencer/Christy Paradox: Just because one gets continually funded by the government doesn't mean you are scientifically competent.

    The Salby Paradox: Just because you can give lectures that show your blood vessels about to explode, doesn't make your research findings any more valid.

    The Gray Paradox: Its OK if I use computers, but other people that use computers are hoaxsters.

    The Soon Paradox: What? Me? You've got to be kidding.

  20. Well, there has always been "truths" that were then shown to be mistaken by science. Sun revolves around earth, species are immutable, continents do not move, climate is constant etc etc.

    Science did find out that the (uninformed) concensus on stable climate (with the occasional God induced flooding though!) was wrong when the evidence for glacials and inter-glacials became the concensus.

    The story is the same with human induced effects on climate. First, everyone thought it not possible. Then the facts convinced them otherwise (few cranks left still).

  21. This comment has been removed by the author.

  22. You know, I'm surprised that no one's scripted a Turing test to mimic Curry's pronouncements on climate physics.

    I'm sure that it wouldn't take too much space - just a few hundred lines that respond to any piece of actual science by reflecting with statements that are the opposite of such fact, that incorporate liberal use of double negatives and other prevaricative statements to avoid being cornered by specifics, that use personal opinion prefaces made out to be objective statements of fact, and that employ choices of logical fallacy to knit it all together. Throw in the occasional declaration of impartiality, victimhood, conspiracy, appeals to the lizard brain... et voila! I'm sure I've missed a couple of signature parameters to her schtick, but there wouldn't be too many others.

    Heck, with one of these things one wouldn't even need Curry to write new posts for her blog - the Turing generator could do it all by itself.

    Hmmm, perhaps it's already happening on Climate Etc...

  23. I just discovered -- DenialDepot had exactly this theory back in 2011.

    "What I always say is that the less experts accept an idea, the more likely it is to be true."

    You can't make this stuff up.

    Some of us thought DenialDepot was a parody of deniers. Turns out, it's written by Judith Curry, and it's meant to be taken seriously.

    Poe's Law in action.

    1. Ha ha. A bit tangential, but I just discovered that microscopes are part of the science hoax :)

    2. Sou, you'll love this then:

      (note to all before clicking: this is at your own peril - it may be more bonkers than the worst WUWT blogpost you can imagine!)
      from the originator of that petition.

      I'd love to call it a Poe, but the crazy is so thick, I think she really believes what she writes!

    3. Um, we probably shouldn't mock the genuinely afflicted. But that is truly a mind-boggling screed! Head-vices on...

    4. Marco, I read the link with a wide open mouth. The level of assumed expertise is high, the level of actual ignorance is higher. The world of denial is large but they share Dunning Kruger as a common infliction.


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